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Burning Green Wood

Green wood has more moisture in it when it burns and that can cause an excess of the much dreaded creosote that you want to keep out of your chimney system, if at all possible.

Green wood also has a tendency to smolder and put smoke into the air. Because the heat helps the smoke rise up through the flue, this smoke, if not hot enough, can “hang out” a little bit longer in the chimney system. If too much smoke is produced and it’s not going up the chimney as it should, it can back fill into your home. While that is a bit extreme, it can happen if all you are doing is burning green or unseasoned wood.

If you have to burn unseasoned wood, try to at least mix it with seasoned wood so the heat from the fire will help push all the smoke up through the flue. While the best wood to burn is seasoned, that is not always possible.

If you have suitable storage space and the time, store green wood until it has a chance to dry. This is the seasoning process. The amount of time needed will vary with weather conditions and protection from the elements. If the wood can be left to season for a year, this year’s green wood will make good seasoned firewood next year.

The best way to store wood is off the ground and in an area that is covered like a garage or shed. Unfortunately, many people just are not able to do what is optimum with the wood they buy and have to make due. If that’s all you can do and you know creosote is the main culprit, then it’s a great idea to contract with a chimney professional to come out and check out the fireplace and chimney system. They can tell you the shape it’s in as well as if it needs sweeping on any repairs made before the next use.

Creosote is a soot and tarry substance that collects on the chimney walls and is highly flammable. It is present in all chimneys in one of three stages and the chimney sweep can identify what stage it is in your chimney.

Is burning green wood the best choice? No, it’s not. But given the reality of what is sold to a lot of customers, you’re probably burning green wood to some degree unless you are drying it yourself. That’s one of the main reasons the National Fire Prevention Association recommends you get your system inspected every year.

 

Do You Know the Life History of Your Chimney?

Clues to the life history of your chimney will be found in the age of your house, assuming it has its original chimney. Popularized in 18th Century in America, chimneys built in the mid-1700s rose well above the roof as a precaution. An unusually tall brick chimney towering over the back of the house might come from this period. Another clue would be the fact that the chimney is on the exterior of the home, built on the outside of an outer wall.

History of Your Chimney - South Georgia - Homestead Chimney Service

Deep fireplaces and sloped flues, designed to reach outside the house, marked this period. In the early 1800s, chimneys were brought inside the walls of American homes. With shallower, reflective fireplaces, came chimneys built on the inside of exterior walls, a style that persisted until the 1940s. Then, in the 50s, fireplaces again deepened and chimneys once again took their place on the outside wall of the house.

Pre-fabricated chimney systems arrived with pre-fabricated houses and metal chimneys became standard on homes built in the 70s and 80s. Typically hidden with siding or a brick facade,  these chimneys too were placed on the outside walls of the house. Built up an exterior wall like before, chimneys from this era terminate much closer to the roof-line than the earlier models.

Now that you know something about its birth, you can learn a lot about your chimney’s life by looking at its filled cracks and patched holes. Assuming it is fit and functioning well at this point, whatever difficulties your chimney has faced have been overcome. The mortar patches and caulked flashing, the newer firebrick and well sealed crown, all tell you that your chimney had the usual frailties but was well loved.

That shiny new stainless chimney cap can tell a story of its own; was it replaced because of wind, rust or just age? In addition, the chase cover may conceal the truth about your chimney, one-time home to both a bird and a ferret? If you live in the Southern United States, especially in Georgia, do not be surprised to learn that migrating chimney swifts once called your chimney home. As long as a chimney fire hasn’t been part of the past, your chimney’s life history is sure to be a long and storied one.

If you’d like to know more about what your home’s chimney has been through over the years, ask the chimney sweep the next time you get it inspected and swept. Who knows what you might discover?

Why Hire a Chimney Specialist to Rebuild Your Fireplace

The fact that professional chimney sweeps know what they are doing is a really good reason to hire a chimney specialist to rebuild your fireplace. Given its importance to your safety, your fireplace is not something you want to scrimp and save a few dollars to build. A well constructed fireplace is the difference between providing a safe environment for your family or choosing not to.

Hire a Chimney Mason - South Georgia - Homestead Chimney

If the fireplace is being rebuilt due to damage it is essential to leave that task up to a chimney specialist. It may be necessary to rebuild more than just one part or section of the fireplace or chimney and making sure everything is put together correctly is a big job best tackled by professional sweeps. They understand the system from the liner to the firebox and everything else in between.

Chimney specialists use firebrick and mortar specially formulated for this purpose to replace the brick. They can also install a fireback, which is a metal plate at the back of the fireplace that radiates heat back into the room. This alone can bring as much as 30% more heat into the house and you wouldn’t know that without the expertise of a professional chimney technician who can install a fireback correctly the first time.

These chimney guys are aware of the codes that have to be followed and adhered to as well as the proper sized opening for the fireplace you have chosen to build. This impacts the draft and the efficiency with which smoke and other gases are removed from the house. They will also equip the chimney with a liner from top to bottom. They will access whether you can restore the one you have or replace it with a new one.  All of these measures help with the performance of your fireplace and chimney.

Chimney specialists will work with you to get the best result out of what you have to start with. Because of their working knowledge of the anatomy of a fireplace and chimney system they think in terms of safety and performance first then work on the way it looks to enhance your home the way you want it to. One without the other just doesn’t make much sense. Choose a chimney specialist for your next project.

Proper Chimney Maintenance: How Often is Enough?

Given the seriousness of the problems that can result from an improperly functioning chimney, the importance of its maintenance cannot be overstated. At a minimum, the chimney and flue need to be inspected once a year, more if the fireplace gets a lot of use. These inspections should be done by a professional who is trained to spot early warning signs easily missed by homeowners.

Chimney Maintenance Frequency - South Georgia - Homestead Chimney

Chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning are the most deadly of the problems caused by chimneys in bad repair. The first occur when combustible creosote builds up in the flue and eventually catches on fire. The latter, known as the unseen killer, continues to claim hundreds of lives every year, typically resulting from poor draft and inadequate ventilation. Having a simple CO2 meter and alarm can help you know if this becomes a problem. They are accurate and inexpensive and they save lives.

The most important function of a chimney is to vent the toxic gases released every time you build a fire. Chimney blockages by debris and birds’ nests are common in improperly covered and capped chases and flues and are the primary cause of inadequate ventilation. The chimney also serves as a barrier between what goes up the chimney, heat and smoke, from the rest of the home.

Heat and smoke can seep through cracks in mortar, widening them and making the problem worse and can potentially ignite. Furthermore, there is no shortage of fuel in most flues, with creosote in different stages forming on their walls. A trained professional will see early indications of these issues and deal with them accordingly.

A thorough inspection will involve both the interior of the chimney, the flue and the exterior. This includes the chase cover and chimney cap. Your chimney sweep will check for signs of rusting of the chimney cap and chase cover, accumulation of soot and tar in the flue, and myriad other potential problems. Well worth the expense when you think about what it saves you long term. Making sure the annual maintenance of your chimney is done by a qualified sweep will insure that your chimney does what it was built to do: keep your family warm.

Chimney Inspection is an Important Part of Having a Safe Chimney

Each season, it is imperative that you have your chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional. There are several areas both inside and outside of the chimney and fireplace the technician will check and clean. If any of these areas show abnormal wear or damage, the technician will recommend a course of action. Here are some areas that may require restoration upon inspection.

Chimney restoration will help keep your chimney safe

  • Chimney Liner – over time, the liner of the chimney can become damaged from regular use. In addition, the liner may be damaged from outside issues, such as water in the system that can cause structural damage. Your technician will present the best alternatives based on the type of flue you currently have and the extent of the damage.
  • Firebox – this is probably the area of your fireplace and chimney that takes the most significant damage every season due to the high temperatures. The technician will check for things such as loose or damaged bricks as well as warped or cracked panels if it is a prefabricated fireplace.
  • Chimney Cap – this small piece of the chimney plays one of the most important roles in protecting your chimney. If you do not already have one in place, the technician will more than likely recommend installing one. If it is damaged, it must be replaced or fixed. This prevents things like water and birds from getting into your chimney, but also prevents embers from leaving the chimney and potentially causing a fire.
  • Dampers – the damper basically opens and closes your chimney from the outside air source. If the damper is damaged, you may not be able to open the flue when it is in use, causing a backdraft of smoke into the home. If it is stuck open, you are paying to heat the great outdoors. Either way, this needs to be fixed or replaced if damaged.
  • Waterproofing – by treating the chimney with a waterproofing agent, the chimney will deflect damp elements, such as snow and rain, rather than allow them to penetrate the brick. This can save the homeowner significant money down the road in repairs.

Time to Think About Sealing Your Chimney Crown

A chimney crown, also called a chimney wash, is the top portion of a masonry chimney. The crown covers and seals the top of the chimney, extending from the flue liner to the edge of the chimney. Its downward slope directs water from the chimney flue to the edge of the crown itself. A masonry chimney usually has an inadequate crown if it’s made from a common mortar mixture.

Re-sealing a chimney crown - before and after

Re-sealing a chimney crown – before (left) and after (right)

A higher-quality crown is normally done by a chimney specialist who understands the type of mortar and concrete that is best for this tough job. The crown is formed or cast to provide an overhang that projects at least two inches beyond each side of the chimney. The chimney flue liner tile should project at least two inches above this crown. The crown needs to withstand abuse from weather elements without deteriorating, chipping, or cracking.

Sealing the chimney crown involves applying a flexible coating of acrylic to protect the crown from water infiltration. If a crown becomes cracked, water can enter the chimney and, as the crack widens over time, more water is permitted access. Eventually, the amount of water entering the chimney exceeds the amount that can evaporate and the deterioration process begins. If damage is caught early, the crown can be repaired and a masonry sealer can be applied to the chimney.

The rubber-like coating of the sealer fills in cracks in the crown. Since it is flexible, it can expand and contract with the chimney. It also directs water away from the top of the chimney, serving as an umbrella. This material can be applied to other exposed masonry surfaces to prevent water from entering through the chimney sides.

If your chimney crown has not been addressed, have a chimney inspection to identify whether sealing is necessary. A darkened upper masonry chimney, flaking and chipping of bricks, or dark mold on a stone chimney are typical indications that the area requires repair. Addressing damage before it becomes serious will save time and money.

Putting a Stop to Winter House Fires

Residential heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires that occur during winter months. Approximately one-half of all household heating fires take place during December, January, and February. In 2010 alone, heating equipment played a role in an estimated 57,100 reported fires of residential structures, causing $1.1 billion in direct property damage and resulting in 1,530 civilian injuries and 490 civilian deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Putting a stop to winter fires

These figures are staggering and illustrate the importance of preventing winter home fires. To maintain a fire-safe home, keep items that can burn at least three feet from heating equipment including fireplaces, wood stoves, portable space heaters, and furnaces. Keep children three feet from space heaters and open fires and never use the oven as a home heating source.

Central heating equipment, stationary space heating equipment, and water heaters should be installed by a qualified professional who follows manufacturer instructions and adheres to local codes. When operating a fuel burning space heater, use only the type of fuel specified by the product manufacturer. Chimneys and heating equipment should be inspected and cleaned by a qualified professional on an annual basis.

If a portable heater is used, turn it off before exiting a room or retiring to bed. A fireplace should feature a sturdy screen that prevents sparks from flying and fireplace ashes should be cool before they are placed into a metal container. As an extra safety precaution, this holder should be kept a safe distance from the home.

Smoke alarms should be tested monthly and carbon monoxide alarms should be installed and maintained to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning risk. Risk of CO2 poisoning increases when fuel-burning equipment is present. If smoke, fire, or carbon monoxide is detected, immediately leave the home and contact the local fire department and, if applicable, the gas company.

Why Dryer Vent Cleaning Is an Important Home Maintenance Task

One would think that human beings would learn from past mistakes. With over 15,000 fires occurring every year specifically related to dryer vents, that does not seem to be the case. It is amazing how destructive forgetting something as easy as dryer vent cleaning can be to a home and the family living inside of it.

Dryer vent fires are easily preventable

Dryer lint is extremely combustible. If you were to take a match to the lint you remove from your dryer screen after a single load of laundry has been done it would immediately burst into flames. Now, imagine the inside of your dryer vent that may not have been cleaned for years. Imagine the buildup of lint in there that could be ignited by a simple spark from your dryer and how long it would take before your entire home was engulfed in flames.

Some of you may be reading this and shaking your heads, but these numbers are real. Over 15,000 fires, 10 injuries, 10 deaths, and over $97 million in damages every year! And to think, the reason this happens in most cases is simply because the homeowner did not take the time to get a professional out to clean their dryer vents!

There are those that think they can just “blow” out or “vacuum” out the lint but that is not enough. Professional chimney sweeps use the same technology to sweep a dryer vent that they do when sweeping out a chimney. This is needed because lint actually sticks to the vent walls and has to be “swept” out.

If you have a chimney, schedule your dryer vent cleaning every year when you have your inspection and cleaning. This way you won’t forget. If not, schedule the cleaning when the clocks go up or back to make it part of your routine. A quick cleaning will make your dryer operate better and keep your home safer.

Educate Your Children Early in Fire Prevention

Every year, over 3,000 people are killed and over 18,000 people are injured due to residential fires. In fires traced back to “playing with a heat source,” over 90 percent of the deaths are children under the age of 10. If this does not shock you into realizing we must address fire safety with children as soon as possible, nothing will.

Teaching Your Kids About Fire Safety

How to Practice Fire Safety in Your Home:

  • Teach children that fire is dangerous and moves fast. Things such as fireplace embers and matches are not toys, but dangerous items that can literally kill.
  • Secure any fire lighting instruments, such as lighters, matches, and torches, in areas where children cannot get to them. If necessary, keep them under lock and key.
  • Teach your children to not be afraid of firemen, but at the same time to recognize the credentials of real firemen.
  • Set off your fire alarm so the children will recognize its sound.
  • Develop a fire escape plan for the entire home, practicing it several times throughout the year. Your children should know their primary and secondary escape routes as well as the family gathering spot outside the home to meet in the case of an evacuation.
  • Prepare your children in what they need to do in the unfortunate instance that their clothing is to catch on fire. Practice the stop, drop, and roll technique, stressing the importance of remaining calm to put out the fire as quickly as possible.
  • It should go without saying, but young children should never be left alone or unsupervised for any reason. This is when they become most curious and fire is something that definitely evokes their curiosity. It takes but a minute for disaster to strike.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of fire play. Look under their bed and behind furniture for burned matches.

Take your child to a fire safety demonstration where they show how quickly a fire can burn out of control, especially through “fire play.”

The Damage Water Can Do to a Masonry Chimney

Water is essential for human life, but it can severely damage a chimney. Most homeowners assume that their chimneys will last forever without any regular maintenance and in some cases, a chimney will last a long time. However, exposure to harsh weather can cause deterioration that turns the chimney into a safety hazard.

Water damaged masonry chimney

Despite its simple appearance, a chimney is actually quite complex. Transporting air to and from the fireplace is just one of its important functions. Brick, concrete, stone, mortar, cast iron, and steel are some materials used to make masonry chimneys. Most of these are adversely affected when they come in direct contact with water or are penetrated by water. Loose masonry materials, damaged lining systems , and flue obstructions make the chimney a hazard for home occupants.

Prolonged contact with water causes accelerated deterioration of all materials used to make a masonry chimney, except stone. Seasonal freezing and thawing allows moisture to contract and expand, creating stress on masonry materials. When water creeps into the chimney, it can rust cast iron or steel. This weakens or destroys the metal areas of the chimney.

Water penetration may damage both the interior and exterior of a masonry chimney. It can decay exterior mortar and deteriorate or crack the flue liner. Water can rot wood adjacent to the chimney and deteriorate a masonry or metal firebox. It can even rust the damper and deteriorate a central heating system. Water may travel through the chimney and into the home, staining ceilings and walls.

Installing a chimney cap is one of the least expensive ways to prevent water damage to a chimney. Per specifications from Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a UL-listed chimney lining system must have a chimney cap. This cap prevents rainwater, snow, and other airborne moisture from entering the flue and traveling into the chimney interior where it can cause damage.